The Adiyogi.

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I would like to start with a disclaimer akin to the one which appears before any movies starts. I did not start the blog as a religious or mythological exercise. Having said so, there are times when you travel, the history of the place or a quirky story attached to it, adds a special flavor to the monument you are visiting. Rather than looking at it through the eyes of a “been there, done that” traveler, adding a dash of mythology, I feel, increases the aura of the place!

So the story goes…..

There was a terrible demon called Banasura who was troubling everyone on Earth. He performed intense penance and asked for immortality from Brahma. When Brahma expressed his inability to grant such a boon, he instead asked Banasura to choose a manner of his death. Banasura wished that if he had to die, he would do so only at the hands of a virgin.

With a sense of over confidence regarding his own immortality, he started harassing the people even worse than before. Unable to bear the pain, people appealed to Lord Vishnu to help them. On the God’s command, they performed a yagna so powerful that the Goddess Parashakti  agreed to come down to the earth as Punyakshi to annihilate the demon.

Punyakshi was a woman of extraordinary intelligence and capabilities. She lived in the Southern parts of India long long ago. She had such immense power of perception that she was considered as an oracle by the society. Akin to how Mirabai worshiped Krishna, Punyakshi developed a deep love for Lord Shiva and resolved to marry him and none other.

While meditating in Mount Kailash, the Lord came to know of her devotion and was moved. He started his journey down south to meet this courageous young woman and marry her. When the news of this reached the people around, they were worried because they would lose their mentor and guide when she went back with Shiva. The devas and Narada were scared that if the wedding would take place, then there would be no one to kill Banasura. Hence, they tried hard to dissuade Shiva from reaching Punyakshi.  But Shiva and Punyakshi were determined.

So, the Chieftain of the village, asked for an impossible kind of bride price- a sugarcane stick without the rings, a betel leaf without veins and a coconut without eyes.  As nothing was impossible for Shiva, he could materialize all the three without a bat of an eyelid.

Becoming even more desperate, Narada plotted.  He scheduled the marriage to happen before sunrise, citing that if the cock crows, then the time would be inauspicious for their union. Punyakshi, secure in the belief that Shiva would definitely reach her, prepared for the wedding with happiness and anticipation. But the elders of the village, egged by Narada, conspired against them and lit a hill of camphor on fire. The blaze was so bright that the village rooster confused it to be daybreak and crowed ahead of time.

Punyakshi got so upset that Shiva had failed her,that she left the place and went to the southernmost part of the land and stood there heartbroken and crying. She is now called the Goddess Kanyakumari, who waits eternally in the place, which bears her name. Learning this, Banasura tried proposing marriage to her. When she refused, he tried to force her hand resulting in a fierce battle, which ultimately killed Banasura. Peace prevailed on Earth.

Meanwhile, Shiva, who was equally upset about his failure, drove himself into a state of despair. He climbed the Vellaingiri mountains and meditated for a long length of time before retreating back to Mount Kailash.

These mountains are now aptly called “South Kailash”.

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Sometimes, it is difficult to ascertain where fact ends and fiction begins. There are so many such stories in our mythology which tread the delicate balance, and add to the mystery. Many are convinced that at the heart of a mythological story is an event that occurred very very long ago. Hence, in Hindu mythology, these texts are called “Itihasas”, or history.

For me, knowing a story and visiting the place have a special charm of its own. Just imagining a land hundreds if not thousand years ago, where Gods and supposedly immortal creatures existed gives me goose bumps.

Visiting the Vellaingiri mountains was one such feeling. Compounded by the magnificent, awe inspiring and majestic bust of Shiva (or Adi yogi, as he is called there), right in the middle of a circular mountain range, green, lush and covered with clouds.

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Just before daybreak, when you see the thick grey clouds, heavy with rain, passing silently behind the huge bust of Shiva, sway involuntarily to the rhythmic chants emerging from a small temple close by, hear the howling wind and feel the light drizzle of rain on your face when you look up at the statue, the feeling is surreal.

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This is one of those moments where time seems to stand still and you feel one with nature and its elements. Fact or fiction, travel surely gives you such near perfect moments to enjoy!

Have you ever had an experience like this??

 

 

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The family culture.

 

Parents are worrywarts. We worry incessantly about our children. Especially when it comes to their future. We worry about how they will handle school, friends, education and a career.

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We wonder how we can prevent them from making the wrong decisions when they are under pressure and have no one around to guide them. Will they do drugs? Will they choose the wrong life partner? Will they give up a meaningful job offer for a lucrative one? Will they care about their health once they live on their own?

We end up relying on the hope that somehow we have raised them well enough to make the right decisions. With a son on the threshold of his teenage years, my worries too, nudge me now and then. As a working mother, I cannot spend a limitless amount of time with my children or keep a hawk’s eye on them. So, do I wait for something to go wrong or is there something I can do before that?

Rather surprisingly, I got the answer, when I was a reading a book about managing companies! The book “How will you measure your life?” by Clayton Christensen, espouses lessons from some of the greatest businesses and applies them to life.

It describes a rather novel concept called “Family culture”.

The dictionary describes culture as “a way of life, especially the general customs or beliefs of a particular group of people at a particular time”.  Mostly, we use the word ‘culture’ in different contexts. For example, if we follow certain religious rules and traditions, we are called cultured. If someone displays a high level of intellectual sophistication, he is called cultured.

But what if we create a person who is “family cultured”?

Think about it. In business, a company’s culture is a way of working together towards common goals that have been so frequently and so successfully used that people don’t even think about trying to do things the other way. Each company underlines its culture when starting off, so that the employees have no doubt about the higher goal they are working towards.For example, google promotes a culture of “working how you want”. Understanding that creative people cannot be restricted to a desk, it allows its employees to work from a beanbag or a tree house or a swing! As long as you deliver what is expected.

If we apply the same to families, and evolve a family culture – a set of general rules and goals for our families to abide by, the same becomes a part of life as we practice it endlessly.

Whether we want it or not, cultures are evolving within our homes. If we plonk ourselves in front of the television and binge watch on the pretext of being tired after work, unconsciously, we are sending signals to our children, that this is what we do in the family, when tired. If we speak to our house help disrespectfully, the same carries over.

So, whether we know it or not, we have already developed some cultures within our families! If you want to develop an alternative, robust and well defined one, the priorities for your family need to be clearly and proactively designed and spoken out for all to know.

This is easy to say, but difficult to put in action. Firstly, you and your spouse come from different families with different cultures (both conscious and unconscious). There will be a lot of things which the both of you cannot agree on. To this equation, we add kids who are born with their own personalities and attitudes!

It is therefore important that both the parents strategize and plan a culture for the family to follow, whatever the consequences. For example, if a family has decided on a culture of having dinner together, helping out in the house chores and being kind, then each member of the family needs to follow it.

At first, it feels like discipline, but over time, it becomes ingrained. It becomes an unconscious choice to get up from the couch and sit with every one for dinner, pick up a mop when there is a spill or help a friend in need!

As parents,being consistent with a culture is both trying and tiring at times, but well worth the trouble taken. For example, teaching your kids to resolve fights amicably  may take a lot of time and energy at first, but that’s the behavior that the kids will will carry on, even when they are with their friends.

We like to believe that we make most of our life’s decisions by intent and consciously. But there is ample amount of research to show that this is not the case. There are many unconscious instincts at play during decision making. Like the time you sleep on a problem, and the answer appears almost miraculously the next morning. That is your unconscious at work. Scientists looked into what happened before the conscious mind made decisions. It was seen that the unconscious had made the same, seven seconds beforehand!

Hence, what better way to train the brain’s unconscious by putting in the right culture? So that, decision making comes by instinct and usually leads to the right choice?

Between busy schedules and too much homework, most parents let this chance of setting family cultures slip by them. Then we wonder, why our children made wrong choices as adults.

There is no time too late to start penning down your family’s culture. Grab your chance to make sure that your children grow up into genuinely good adults who set examples for others.

 

Doctor Diaries. The power of a “Mob”

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Life hands us surprises. But sometimes, when the surprise is unpleasant and comes as a reward for your act of kindness, it is difficult not to crumble.

Last week, a well dressed, neat looking woman in her thirties walked into my office. She sat poised, waiting for me to start. But as soon as I greeted her, she burst into tears. With great difficulty she reined her tears in and apologized. She introduced herself as a teacher Mrs.X, and said that she was not given to emotional excesses like this. “But how my life has changed!…” she rued. “In a matter of two months!”.

When I asked her to elaborate, hers turned out be a story similar to what has been in the papers in the past few months. X explained that her husband had recently inherited a piece of land from his grandmother, in his native village. The couple were naturally happy, but also scared of the land mafia. Hence, they took along their broker and an engineer and went to check on the plot. As it was quite a long way from their town, they packed along a picnic lunch to eat.

The land seemed beautiful, lush and green. Plans were made to build a vacation home and have a small farm, which they could visit on weekends. Once the decisions were done and dusted, they sat down to eat near the edge of the plot. They noticed  a group of village children gaping at their car and talking excitedly. In a feeling of joie de vivre, they handed out some chaklis to them, which the kids accepted and ran back.

The four of them were just packing up to leave when they noticed a bunch of angry looking villagers walking towards them. Before they realised what was happening, the kids pointed out to them, and they were getting beaten up with sticks and stones.

“It was a horrifying experience”, she shuddered. “I thought we were going to die. No amount of begging and pleading helped”. Their car was beaten to pulp. Luckily for them, the car still worked, and they got away before they were killed. They later realized that the villagers had been warned of kidnappers through a whatsapp video, and the ill fated chaklis had been misconstrued as bait for the kids!

Ever since, X had been having nightmares, flashbacks, palpitations and an inability to concentrate on her work. She would suddenly burst into tears and start trembling in the middle of her class. Any loud noise would make her want to run for cover. All in all, “My life is in ruins for the kindness that I showed”, she cried.

Never in our seemingly civilized life do we assume that something hooliganistic can happen to us. Or that we may resort to violence to resolve an issue.We feel that we have left our cave man behavior behind and moved on to safer shores. But is there an animal lurking within?

The villagers probably were not all violent people with criminal motives. There were parents, women, and kids in the group. So, what was it, that pushed these people over the edge of reason?

Social scientists describe such behavior as “crowd behavior” , now also popularly called “mob mentality”. Gustav Le Bon, one of the theorists who studied mobs, explains that when an incident starts a riot, the mob gets a life of its own. Deep seated resentments, frustrations about other issues and long standing disappointments about life can get a release through hitting, throwing, pushing and looting. Sometimes lynching too. Being in a mob provides cover and a sense of anonymity which makes it easier to display bad behavior. Basically a mass adult temper tantrum of sorts. Like when you are angry about lots of homework, your annoying sibling, bad food at lunch and a fight with your best friend, which all erupts into one big ball of rage as soon as your mother as much as refuses to give you a chocolate!

The members of the group are also reasonably sure that they will not be penalised for it, for how do you know whom to start with and where to stop? There is a release of subconscious pent up energy and frustration. All in all, apparently, there is a feeling of being in a trance.

In an incident which occurred in 2001, a 26 year old woman who was standing on the bridge contemplating suicide was driven to her death by a group of onlookers who kept yelling at her to “Jump, b***h, jump”. Which she did. Later, some on them who had been in the crowd, expressed that they felt terrible about their part in the tragedy and that they did not know what came over them.

Such is the power of the group. Surprisingly, there are so many instances in our lives where we unconsciously follow this very mentality that has the potential to shove us into the realm of violence. Starting from harmless parent teacher meetings, where I see a surge of complaints popping up as soon as one boisterous parent decides to voice out his problem loudly. The other parents surge up in protest as if new power is handed to them! Or the social media trolling which is gaining momentum. So, though we may not be beating or hitting, we seem to be at serious danger of landing there with the slightest push.

As a mental health professional, I was wondering whether it was better to treat the perpetrator or only handle the victims?

Surprisingly, it apparently takes very little to defuse a crowd. Start fast, observe when trouble is brewing, look for the leader, call out people by their names and draw them out for a one to one talk. Sounds easy, but then, it looks like there should be a counselor placed in all police units! A mob defusing squad like a bomb defusing one!

Jokes apart, as sensible people, we should at least start analyzing the messages sent to us on the social media, validate whether what is sent is true and only then, forward it to others. One news report claims that the whatsapp lynchings which happened recently were mainly because of the fact that the consumers of that particular video were villagers, who were new users of social media, and hence ended up believing that everything shown on whatsapp was the gospel truth.

So, though it is utopian to have mob diffusers, it would be a start to have responsible social media users and thinking news consumers so as to prevent the unnecessary deaths or post traumatic stress faced by many, like my patient.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine. Book love.

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When a book deals with issues like loneliness, childhood abuse, neglect and some degree of psychosis, the result definitely sounds like a very very depressing read. Something that you would run a mile away from, after a long and busy week. But what if the book is somehow like Rajkumar Hirani’s movies where difficult issues give rise to a compelling,  heart warming tale with a feel good ending?

Loneliness is an emotion I often see in my everyday dealings with patients. People seem to be lonely in the midst of marriages, joint families, school, children and hectic careers. Loneliness has also been described as “social pain” – a psychological mechanism meant to motivate people to seek for friendships or a purpose in life. Most clients I work with are trying desperately to get out of this bog and hence sign up for counselling. But what if there is someone who is completely alone but does not necessarily feel bad about it?

“Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine” explores this theme and was one of the reasons that I picked the book. The protagonist of this novel Eleanor, is a woman in her thirties. She works in an office, doing mundane odd jobs. She has a strict obsessive routine which she follows through the week, and the weekends.She has no friends nor does she feel the need for any. She is the butt of a few office jokes due to her reclusiveness, but takes it in her stride. And feels completely fine.

Till one fine day, her life changes because of an accident involving an aged stranger. She ends up helping him to the hospital along with a colleague from work. And gets slowly drawn into a world filled with emotions, relationships and togetherness.

Gail Honeyman, the writer has beautifully etched out a character who is quirky but likable because of her extreme straightforwardness. Eleanor seems part autistic, part schizophrenic and part personality disordered, but is still endearing and funny. As the book unfolds, we get to know the reasons behind the heroine’s behavior. Though depressing, you end up marveling at the way she has handled her life through the misery.

I loved the book.

First of all because, the protagonist is someone who has flaws. Huge ones. But still has her own place under the sun. It makes flaws quite acceptable. Something not to be ashamed of. Just like how it should be for all of us. Most people are either oblivious of theirs or are excessive about getting rid of them. With Elanor, what you get is acceptance of the fact and not making a big deal out of it. And changing when the need arises.

Secondly, it challenges us to think change the way we think about people who are different in some way or mentally ill. It prods us to think about whether they have reasons which made them the way they are. I remember the time when I had to deal with an accident on my way back from tutions. The chain of my cycle gave way and I was left stranded on the road at night with rain threatening to pour. There was this boy in our class, who was mildly retarded (which I know now)and the butt of all our class jokes. I am ashamed to say, that I have laughed at a few of them too. This boy, with whom I had hardly spoken, helped me lift the cycle and repair the chain. Then, he politely said goodnight and disappeared. We hardly even talked after the incident and through school. I now wish that I had the good sense to get to know ,understand and be friends with him. Most of the time, I feel,we are too busy trying to fit in, than to extend a helping hand to those who are left out.

Thirdly, it gives an nuanced description of a person who would fall in the autistic spectrum. The lack of grace, the acceptance of facts at face value, the simple way of life and brutal honesty make you wonder whether we are normal or vice versa.

Finally, the fact that the book ends on a positive note and a fuzzy warm feeling, makes it the perfect read on a cold rainy weekend.

 

Have you read the book yet?

 

What do you want to be when you grow up?

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I am currently working with a 16 year old who has a severe case of school refusal. Through many sessions of counseling, one of the most constant thought patterns I observed in the boy were ones of being utterly de motivated. He says that he is bored at home, but does not “feel like” going to school. When asked to imagine himself a few years down the line and tell me what he foresees for himself, he responds by saying that he would probably be continuing his father’s granite business. He also flippantly mentions that he is sibling-less and hence, the huge assets made by his parents were sure to help him continue his current lifestyle!

This got me thinking. Growing up, one of the most common questions asked of a child must be “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Parents, random uncles and aunts, neighbors, teachers… everyone seems to want to know what aspirations a child has. In my professional life too, I have asked this question to many of the kids who come to me. It has been a useful tool to start a conversation with a child that I know nothing much about, or to steer the child in a direction that I want.

But recently, I saw a vlog by Vishen Lakhani, an author, entrepreneur, and the founder of Mindvalley, a forum for the world’s smartest to speak on.  He eggs us on to change the way we ask this question. Rather than the routine “What do you want to do when you grow up?” he opines that it would be a better option to ask “How would you want to contribute to the world?”.  This he feels, changes the way the child thinks and gives him/her the feeling of being responsible, even in a tiny way about the world that we inhabit.

Children of today, at least in our country, are largely the products of second or third generation literates. Our parenting systems make sure that the child is supported through his education, both financially as well as emotionally. Even young children are smart enough to know that they are well off and that their parents would have made for them, a comfortable nest egg. The guilt of being rich belongs to an era bygone. The children of this generation take to their parents’ wealth and its offshoots of foreign travel, posh schools and techno tools with the ease of a fish taking to water.

Now, when you have everything, or almost everything handed to you on a platter, why would you have the motivation to work hard and best it? The easy gratification which comes with being handed a cell phone with internet, probably tops all the happiness that you get when you work really hard to get a measly A+ in the exams.

As the rural urban divide grows, children from cities do not get to meet their less fortunate peers on a daily basis. As we globalize and become materialistic, our kids lose sight that there is so much more to do, than sit stuck to a video game in a virtual world. Parents do have a hard time making their children conscious of the value of money and hard work.

In such a scenario, how do we make our children grow up as people who are responsible, goal oriented, conscientious and hardworking ?

The only way is probably by making them aware that they have a responsibility to the world that they live in. To make it a better place than what it is today.

In the process, maybe there is a lot we can learn from them. Because, when children dream, they dream big. They do so without fear. They are more imaginative. And to kindle their passion at a young age would probably give us thinkers and doers who have the power to change the world. Now. Rather than wait forever till they lose their passion for life and become addicted to mind numbing television.

It reminds me of this Ted talk by ten year old Ishita Katyal from Pune (who, by the way is an author already and the youngest Indian to speak at a TEDx event ) who directs her talk to asking why we adults ask children what they want to do when they grow up? “Why not now?” she wonders.

Hmm….something to ponder upon indeed.

So, the next time you spend time with a child, and are likely to pop this question, you know what to ask. Maybe if my client were asked the same, probably, he would have been a teenager with a mission.